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The scepticism of Aristippus and the Cyrenaics mediated between the views of Protagoras and those of Gorgias, while marking an advance on both. According to this school, we know nothing beyond our own feelings, and it must be left undecided whether they are caused by an external reality or not. Nor can the feelings of one individual justify us in reasoning to the existence of similar feelings in the mind of another individual.221 It might be objected that the arguments advanced in support of the latter assertion are suicidal, for they are derived from the abnormal states of consciousness accompanying particular diseases, or else from the divergences of taste exhibited by different individuals even when in good health,—an apparent admission that we are sufficiently well acquainted with the phenomena in question to institute a comparison between them, which, by hypothesis, is impossible. And this is, in fact, the method by which Mr. Herbert Spencer has endeavoured to upset the whole theory of subjective idealism, as involving at every step an assumption of the very realities that it professes to deny. But the Cyrenaic and the modern idealist have a perfect right to show that the assumptions of their adversaries are self-contradictory; and the readiest way of so doing is to reason from them as if they were true. The real answer to that extreme form of idealism which denies the possibility of making known our feelings to each other is that, our bodies being similarly constructed and responding to similar impressions by similar manifestations,133 I have the same sort of warrant for assuming that your states of consciousness are like mine that I have for assuming you to exist at all. The inference must, of course, be surrounded by proper precautions, such as are seldom used by unscientific reasoners. We must make sure that the structure is the same and that the excitement is the same, or that their differences, if any, are insignificant, before we can attribute the same value to the same manifestations of feeling on the part of different persons; but that this can be done, at least in the case of the elementary sensations, is shown by the easy detection of such anomalies as colour-blindness where they exist.
Here, then, are three main points of distinction between our philosopher and his precursors, the advantage being, so far, entirely on their side. He did not, like the Ionian physiologists, anticipate in outline our theories of evolution. He held that the cosmos had always been, by the strictest necessity, arranged in the same manner; the starry revolutions never changing; the four elements preserving a constant balance; the earth always solid; land and water always distributed according to their present proportions; living321 species transmitting the same unalterable type through an infinite series of generations; the human race enjoying an eternal duration, but from time to time losing all its conquests in some great physical catastrophe, and obliged to begin over again with the depressing consciousness that nothing could be devised which had not been thought of an infinite number of times already; the existing distinctions between Hellenes and barbarians, masters and slaves, men and women, grounded on everlasting necessities of nature. He did not, like Democritus, distinguish between objective and subjective properties of matter; nor admit that void space extends to infinity round the starry sphere, and honeycombs the objects which seem most incompressible and continuous to our senses. He did not hope, like Socrates, for the regeneration of the individual, nor, like Plato, for the regeneration of the race, by enlightened thought. It seemed as if Philosophy, abdicating her high function, and obstructing the paths which she had first opened, were now content to systematise the forces of prejudice, blindness, immobility, and despair.
It is a familiar fact, first brought to light by Lessing, and generalised by him into a law of all good literary composition, that Homer always throws his descriptions into a narrative form. We are not told what a hero wore, but how he put on his armour; when attention is drawn to a particular object we are made acquainted with its origin and past history; even the reliefs on a shield are invested with life and movement. Homer was not impelled to adopt this method either by conscious reflection or by a profound poetic instinct. At a certain stage of intellectual development, every Greek would find it far easier to arrange the data of experience in successive than in contemporaneous order; the one is fixed, the other admits of indefinite variation. Pictorial and plastic art also begin with serial presentations, and only arrive at the construction of large centralised groups much later on. We have next to observe that, while Greek reflection at first followed the order of time, it turned by preference not to present or future, but to past time. Nothing in Hellenic literature reminds us of Hebrew prophecy. To a Greek all distinct prevision was merged in the gloom of coming death or the glory of anticipated fame. Of course, at every great crisis of the national fortunes much curiosity prevailed among the vulgar as to what course events would take; but it was sedulously discouraged by the noblest minds. Herodotus and46 Sophocles look on even divine predictions as purposely ambiguous and misleading. Pindar often dwells on the hopeless uncertainty of life.35 Thucydides treats all vaticination as utterly delusive. So, when a belief in the soul’s separate existence first obtained acceptance among the Greeks, it interested them far less as a pledge of never-ending life and progress hereafter, than as involving a possible revelation of past history, of the wondrous adventures which each individual had passed through before assuming his present form. Hence the peculiar force of Pindar’s congratulation to the partaker in the Eleusinian mysteries; after death he knows not only ‘the end of life,’ but also ‘its god-given beginning.’36 Even the present was not intelligible until it had been projected back into the past, or interpreted by the light of some ancient tale. Sappho, in her famous ode to Aphroditê, recalls the incidents of a former passion precisely similar to the unrequited love which now agitates her heart, and describes at length how the goddess then came to her relief as she is now implored to come again. Modern critics have spoken of this curious literary artifice as a sign of delicacy and reserve. We may be sure that Sappho was an utter stranger to such feelings; she ran her thoughts into a predetermined mould just as a bee builds its wax into hexagonal cells. Curtius, the German historian, has surmised with much plausibility that the entire legend of Troy owes its origin to this habit of throwing back contemporary events into a distant past. According to his view, the characters and scenes recorded by Homer, although unhistorical as they now stand, had really a place in the Achaean colonisation of Asia Minor.37 But, apart from any disguised allusions, old stories had an inexhaustible charm for the Greek imagination. Even during the stirring events of the Peloponnesian war, elderly Athenian47 citizens in their hours of relaxation talked of nothing but mythology.38 When a knowledge of reading became universally diffused, and books could be had at a moderate price, ancient legends seem to have been the favourite literature of the lower classes, just as among ourselves in Caxton’s time. Still more must the same taste have prevailed a century earlier. A student who opens Pindar’s epinician odes for the first time is surprised to find so little about the victorious combatants and the struggles in which they took part, so much about mythical adventures seemingly unconnected with the ostensible subject of the poem. Furthermore, we find that genealogies were the framework by which these distant recollections were held together. Most noble families traced their descent back to a god or to a god-like hero. The entire interval separating the historical period from the heroic age was filled up with more or less fictitious pedigrees. A man’s ancestry was much the most important part of his biography. It is likely that Herodotus had just as enthusiastic an admiration as we can have for Leonidas. Yet one fancies that a historian of later date would have shown his appreciation of the Spartan king in a rather different fashion. We should have been told something about the hero’s personal appearance, and perhaps some characteristic incidents from his earlier career would have been related. Not so with Herodotus. He pauses in the story of Thermopylae to give us the genealogy of Leonidas up to Heraclês; no more and no less. That was the highest compliment he could pay, and it is repeated for Pausanias, the victor of Plataea.39 The genealogical method was capable of wide extension, and could be applied to other than human or animal relationships. Hesiod’s Theogony is a genealogy of heaven and earth, and all that in them is. According to Aeschylus, gain is bred from gain, slaughter from slaughter, woe from woe. Insolence bears a child like unto herself, and this in turn gives birth to48 a still more fatal progeny.40 The same poet terminates his enumeration of the flaming signals that sped the message of victory from Troy to Argos, by describing the last beacon as ‘not ungrandsired by the Idaean fire.’41 Now, when the Greek genius had begun to move in any direction, it rushed forward without pausing until arrested by an impassable limit, and then turned back to retraverse at leisure the whole interval separating that limit from its point of departure. Thus, the ascending lines of ancestry were followed up until they led to a common father of all; every series of outrages was traced through successive reprisals back to an initial crime; and more generally every event was affiliated to a preceding event, until the whole chain had been attached to an ultimate self-existing cause. Hence the records of origination, invention, spontaneity were long sought after with an eagerness which threw almost every other interest into the shade. ‘Glory be to the inventor,’ sings Pindar, in his address to victorious Corinth; ‘whence came the graces of the dithyrambic hymn, who first set the double eagle on the temples of the gods?’42 The Prometheus of Aeschylus tells how civilisation began, and the trilogy to which it belongs was probably intended to show how the supremacy of Zeus was first established and secured. A great part of the Agamemnon deals with events long anterior to the opening of the drama, but connected as ultimate causes with the terrible catastrophe which it represents. In the Eumenides we see how the family, as it now exists, was first constituted by the substitution of paternal for maternal headship, and also how the worship of the Avenging Goddesses was first introduced into Athens, as well as how the Areopagite tribunal was founded. It is very probable that Sophocles’s earliest work, the Triptolemus, represented the origin of agriculture under a dramatic form; and if the same poet’s later pieces, as well as all those of Euripides,49 stand on quite different ground, occupied as they are with subjects of contemporaneous, or rather of eternal interest, we must regard this as a proof that the whole current of Greek thought had taken a new direction, corresponding to that simultaneously impressed on philosophy by Socrates and the Sophists. We may note further that the Aeginetan sculptures, executed soon after Salamis, though evidently intended to commemorate that victory, represent a conflict waged long before by the tutelary heroes of Aegina against an Asiatic foe. We may also see in our own British Museum how the birth of Athênê was recorded in a marble group on one pediment of the Parthenon, and the foundation of her chosen city on the other. The very temple which these majestic sculptures once adorned was a petrified memorial of antiquity, and, by the mere form of its architecture, must have carried back men’s thoughts to the earliest Hellenic habitation, the simple structure in which a gabled roof was supported by cross-beams on a row of upright wooden posts.A great reformer of the last generation, finding that the idea of Nature was constantly put forward to thwart his most cherished schemes, prepared a mine for its destruction which was only exploded after his death. Seldom has so powerful a charge of logical dynamite been collected within so small a space as in Mill’s famous Essay on Nature. But the immediate effect was less than might have been anticipated, because the attack was supposed to be directed against religion, whereas it was only aimed at an abstract metaphysical dogma, not necessarily connected with any theological beliefs, and held by many who have discarded all such beliefs. A stronger impression was, perhaps, produced by the nearly simultaneous declaration of Sir W. Gull—in reference to the supposed vis medicatrix naturae—that, in cases of disease, ‘what Nature wants is to put the man in his coffin.’ The new school of political economists have also done much to show that legislative interference with the ‘natural laws’ of wealth need by no means be so generally mischievous as was once supposed. And the doctrine of Evolution, besides breaking down the old distinctions between Nature and Man, has represented the former as essentially variable, and therefore, to that extent, incapable of affording a fixed standard for moral action. It is, however, from this school that a new49 attempt to rehabilitate the old physical ethics has lately proceeded. The object of Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Data of Ethics is, among other points, to prove that a true morality represents the ultimate stage of evolution, and reproduces in social life that permanent equilibration towards which every form of evolution constantly tends. And Mr. Spencer also shows how evolution is bringing about a state of things in which the self-regarding shall be finally harmonised with the social impulses. Now, it will be readily admitted that morality is a product of evolution in this sense that it is a gradual formation, that it is the product of many converging conditions, and that it progresses according to a certain method. But that the same method is observed through all orders of evolution seems less evident. For instance, in the formation, first of the solar system, and then of the earth’s crust, there is a continual loss of force, while in the development of organic life there is as continual a gain; and on arriving at subjective phenomena, we are met by facts which, in the present state of our knowledge, cannot advantageously be expressed in terms of force and matter at all. Even if we do not agree with George Sand in thinking that self-sacrifice is the only virtue, we must admit that the possibility, at least, of its being sometimes demanded is inseparable from the idea of duty. But self-sacrifice cannot be conceived without consciousness; which is equivalent to saying that it involves other than mechanical notions. Thus we are confronted by the standing difficulty of all evolutionary theories, and on a point where that difficulty is peculiarly sensible. Nor is this an objection to be got rid of by the argument that it applies to all philosophical systems alike. To an idealist, the dependence of morality on consciousness is a practical confirmation of his professed principles. Holding that the universal forms of experience are the conditions under which an object is apprehended, rather than modifications imposed by an unknowable object on an unknowable subject, and that these50 forms are common to all intelligent beings, he holds also that the perception of duty is the widening of our individual selves into that universal self which is the subjective side of all experience.
There is, indeed, nothing more nobly characteristic of the Hellenic spirit, especially as organised by Socrates, than its capacity not only for communicating, but for awakening ideas; thus enabling all the nations among which it spread to realise the whole potential treasure of theoretical and practical energy with which they were endowed. And, from this point of view, we may say that what seems most distinctively proper to Rome—the triumphant consciousness of herself as a world-conquering and world-ruling power—came to her from Greece, and under the form of a Greek idea, the idea of providential destiny. It was to make his countrymen understand the fateful character and inevitable march of her empire that Polybius composed his great history; it was also by a Greek181 that the most successful of her early national epics was sung; and when at last her language was wrought into an adequate instrument of literary expression—thanks also to Greek rhetorical teaching,—and the culture of her children had advanced so far that they could venture to compete with the Greeks on their own ground, it was still only under forms suggested by Stoicism that Virgil could rewrite the story of his country’s dedication to her predestined task.In Germany, Neo-Aristotelianism has already lived out the appointed term of all such movements; having, we believe, been brought into fashion by Trendelenburg about forty years ago. Since then, the Aristotelian system in all its branches has been studied with such profound scholarship that any illusions respecting its value for our present needs must, by this time, have been completely dissipated; while the Hegelian dialectic, which it was originally intended to combat, no longer requires a counterbalance, having been entirely driven from German university teaching. Moreover, Lange’s famous History of Materialism has dealt a staggering blow to the reputation of Aristotle, not merely in itself, but relatively to the services of early Greek thought; although280 Lange goes too far into the opposite extreme when exalting Democritus at his expense.170 We have to complain, however, that Zeller and other historians of Greek philosophy start with an invariable prejudice in favour of the later speculators as against the earlier, and especially in favour of Aristotle as against all his predecessors, even Plato included, which leads them to slur over his weak points, and to bring out his excellencies into disproportionate relief.171
214So strong, however, was the theological reaction against Greek rationalism that Epicurus himself came under its influence. Instead of denying the existence of the gods altogether, or leaving it uncertain like Protagoras, he asserted it in the most emphatic manner. Their interference with Nature was all that he cared to dispute. The egoistic character of his whole system comes out once more in his conception of them as beings too much absorbed in their own placid enjoyments to be troubled with the work of creation and providence. He was, indeed, only repeating aloud what had long been whispered in the free-thinking circles of Athenian society. That the gods were indifferent to human interests81 was a heresy indignantly denounced by Aeschylus,159 maintained by Aristodêmus, the friend of Socrates, and singled out as a fit subject for punishment by Plato. Nor was the theology of Aristotle’s Metaphysics practically distinguishable from such a doctrine. Although essential to the continued existence of the cosmos, considered as a system of movements, the Prime Mover communicates the required impulse by the mere fact of his existence, and apparently without any consciousness of the effect he is producing. Active beneficence had, in truth, even less to do with the ideal of Aristotle than with the ideal of Epicurus, and each philosopher constructed a god after his own image; the one absorbed in perpetual thought, the other, or more properly the others, in perpetual enjoyment; for the Epicurean deities were necessarily conceived as a plurality, that they might not be without the pleasure of friendly conversation. Nevertheless, the part assigned by Aristotle to his god permitted him to offer a much stronger proof of the divine existence and attributes than was possible to Epicurus, who had nothing better to adduce than the universal belief of mankind,—an argument obviously proving too much, since it told, if anything, more powerfully for the interference than for the bare reality of supernatural agents.
It is, perhaps, characteristic of the times that Aelian’s stories should redound more especially to the credit of Asclêpius and Heracles, who were not gods of the first order, but demi-gods or deified mortals. Their worship, like that of the Nature-powers connected with earth rather than with heaven, belongs particularly to the popular religion, and seems to have been repressed or restrained in societies organised on aristocratic principles. And as more immediate products of the forces by which supernaturalist beliefs are created and maintained, such divinities would profit by the free scope now given to popular predilections. In their case also, as with the earth-goddesses Dêmêtêr and Isis, a more immediate and affectionate relation might be established between the believer and the object of his worship than had been possible in reference to the chief Olympian gods. Heracles had lived the life of a man, his activity had been almost uniformly beneficent, and so he was universally invoked, as a helper and healer, in the sick-chamber no less231 than on the storm-tost ship.354 Asclêpius was still more obviously the natural refuge of those who were afflicted with any bodily disease, and, in a time of profound peace, this was of all calamities the most likely to turn men’s thoughts towards a supernatural protector. Hence we find that where, apart from Christianity, the religious enthusiasm of the second century reaches its intensest expression, which is in the writings of the celebrated rhetor Aristeides, Asclêpius comes in for the largest share of devotional feeling. During an illness which continued through thirteen years, Aristeides sought day and night for help and inspiration from the god. It came at last in the usual form of a prescription communicated through a dream. Both on this and on other occasions, the excitement of an overwrought imagination combined with an exorbitant vanity made the sophist believe himself to be preferred above all other men as an object of the divine favour. At one time he would see himself admitted in his dreams to an exchange of compliments with Asclêpius; at other times he would convert the most ordinary incidents into signs of supernatural protection. Thus his foster-sister having died on the day of his own recovery from a dangerous epidemic, it was revealed to him in a dream that her life had been accepted as a ransom for his. We are told that the monks of the Middle Ages could not refrain from expressing their indignant contempt for the insane credulity of Aristeides, in marginal notes on his orations; but the last-mentioned incident, at least, is closely paralleled by the well-known story that a devout lady was once permitted to redeem the life of Pius IX. by the sacrifice of her own.355The relation of Spinoza’s Substance to its attributes is ambiguous. It is at once their cause, their totality, and their unity. The highly elastic and indefinite term Power helped these various aspects to play into and replace one another according to the requirements of the system. It is associated with the subjective possibility of multiplying imaginary existences to any amount; with the causal energy in which existence originates; and with the expansiveness characteristic alike of Extension and of Thought. For the two known attributes of the universal substance are not simply related to it as co-predicates of a common subject; they severally express its essential Power, and are, to that extent, identical with one another. But when we ask, How do they express Power? the same ambiguity recurs. Substance is revealed through its attributes, as a cause through its effects; as an aggregate through its constituents; and as an abstract notion through its concrete embodiments. Thus Extension and Thought are identical through their very differences, since these illustrate the versatility of their common source, and at the same time jointly contribute to the realisation of its perfection. But, for all practical purposes, Spinoza deals only with the parallelism and resemblance of the attributes. We have to see how he establishes it, and how far he was helped in so doing by the traditions of Greek philosophy.And want of that would be a want of all.’16
By cutting up some of the longer essays into parts, Porphyry succeeded, much to his delight, in bringing the whole number up to fifty-four, which is a product of the two perfect numbers six and nine. He then divided them into six volumes, each containing nine books—the famous Enneads of Plotinus. His principle of arrangement was to bring together the books in which similar subjects were discussed, placing the easier disquisitions first. This disposition has been adhered to by subsequent editors, with the single exception of Kirchhoff, who has printed the works of Plotinus according to the order in which they were written.418 Porphyry’s scrupulous information has saved modern scholars an incalculable amount of trouble, but has not, apparently, earned all the gratitude it deserved, to judge by Zeller’s intimation that the chronological order of the separate pieces cannot even now be precisely determined.419 Unfortunately, what could have been of priceless value in the case of Plato and Aristotle, is of comparatively small value in the case of Plotinus. His280 system must have been fully formed when he began to write, and the dates in our possession give no clue to the manner in which its leading principles were evolved.420It is remarkable that the spontaneous development of Greek thought should have led to a form of Theism not unlike that which some persons still imagine was supernaturally revealed to the Hebrew race; for the absence of any connexion between the two is now almost universally admitted. Modern science has taken up the attitude of Laplace towards the hypothesis in question; and those critics who, like Lange, are most imbued with the scientific spirit, feel inclined to regard its adoption by Plato as a retrograde movement. We may to a certain extent agree with them, without admitting that philosophy, as a whole, was injured by departing from the principles of Democritus. An intellectual like an animal organism may sometimes have to choose between retrograde metamorphosis and total extinction. The course of events drove speculation to Athens, where it could only exist on the condition of assuming a theological form. Moreover, action and reaction were equal and contrary. Mythology gained as much as philosophy lost. It was purified from immoral ingredients, and raised to the highest level which supernaturalism is capable of attaining. If the Republic was the forerunner of the Catholic Church, the Timaeus was the forerunner of the Catholic faith.
The cause which first arrested and finally destroyed the free movement of Greek thought was not any intrinsic limitation or corruption of the Greek genius, but the ever-increasing preponderance of two interests, both tending, although in different ways and different degrees, to strengthen the principle of authority and to enfeeble the principle of reason. One was the theological interest, the other was the scholastic interest. The former was the more conspicuous and the more mischievous of the two. From the persecution of Anaxagoras to the prohibition of philosophical teaching by Justinian, we may trace the rise and spread of a reaction towards superstition, sometimes advancing and sometimes receding, but, on the whole, gaining ground from age to age, until from the noontide splendour of Pericles we pass to that long night which stretches in almost impenetrable darkness down to the red and stormy daybreak of the Crusades. And it was a reaction which extended through all classes, including the philosophers themselves. It seems to me that where the Athenian school, from Socrates on, fall short of their predecessors, as in some points they unquestionably do, their inferiority is largely due to this cause. Its influence is very perceptible in weakening the speculative energies of thosexii who stand at the greatest distance from the popular beliefs. It was because dislike for theology occupied so large a place in the thoughts of Epicurus and his disciples, that they valued science only as a refutation of its teaching, instead of regarding it simply as an obstacle to be removed from the path of enquiry. More than this; they became infected with the spirit of that against which they fought, and their absolute indifference to truth was the shadow which it cast on their minds.
The enemies of hedonism had taken a malicious satisfaction in identifying it with voluptuous indulgence, and had scornfully asked if that could be the supreme good and proper object of virtuous endeavour, the enjoyment of which was habitually associated with secresy and shame. It was, perhaps, to screen his system from such reproaches that Epicurus went a long way towards the extreme limit of asceticism, and hinted at the advisability of complete abstinence from that which, although natural, is not necessary to self68-preservation, and involves a serious drain on the vital energies.134 In this respect, he was not followed by Lucretius, who has no objection to the satisfaction of animal instinct, so long as it is not accompanied by personal passion.135 Neither the Greek moralist nor the Roman poet could foresee what a great part in the history of civilisation chivalrous devotion to a beloved object was destined to play, although the uses of idealised desire had already revealed themselves to Plato’s penetrating gaze.So do the night’s blind eye and sun’s bright orb